Cajoling the crosswind

April 18, 2008 by Machteld A. Smith, Senior Editor

Once upon a time there was a pilot (me) who was getting her sign-off in a feisty taildragger. And as fate would have it, winds were perpendicular to the runway that day. “No problem,” said the good instructor. And then he added, “Just remember: Keep positive control until the plane is tied down.” And so I took a deep breath and plunged into the mighty crosswind.

My neck hurt from switching my view back and forth out the left side window (witnessing ever-growing runway numbers and end lights coming nearer) to the front windshield where trees loomed but kept their distance, thank you. The airplane’s nose steadily pointed 45 degrees to the runway’s right side, and the numbers and lights were now really getting very large in the left window, so I formed a plan of action: Get lined up with the centerline, no matter what it takes.

It was an oh-so-sweet touchdown, especially hearing, “Good job, keep her there,” from the back seat. My left hand was on the throttle while my white-knuckled right hand clamped onto the stick. Overjoyed with my glorious success that had solicited kudos from the back, I let go of the controls for just a split second. The airplane reacted immediately, and so did the good instructor. Uh oh–what was I thinking?

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